Wolkenburg Suspension Bridge: A Unique Cable-Stay Along the Mulde

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Wolkenburg (Saxony)/ Limbach-Oberfrohna/ Glauchau- The last of the three bridges profiled here that is debuting along the Zwickauer Mulde is the Wolkenburg Suspension Bridge. Before going further with this bridge, we need to clarify what this bridge looks like as well as its aesthetic value. The current structure, open since May Day this year is actually a cable-stayed suspension bridge, a bridge type where suspenders actually support the roadway from the tower. When looking at them from an American’s point of view, cable-stayed bridges are bland in appearance, ranking them up there with concrete slab/girder bridges that represent a sour taste to the land-/ or even cityscape. This can be best exemplified with two bridges that come to mind: The Fort Steuben and the Russell-Ironton Bridges. Both of them spanned the Ohio River; both of them have the characteristic A-frame tower, whose cables support the roadway; both of them replaced historic bridges that had a lot of characteristic and aesthetic appeal but were neglected by the department of transportation in a successful bid to have them replaced. Both of them have been demolished, leaving nothing but documentation on websites owned by James Baughn and Nathan Holth, respectively. Both bridges are prone to having problems in the short-term involving the cables and the roadway because, like other modern bridge types, there is too much (heavy) traffic using it. We’re even seeing it with a pair of bridges in Germany, which will be mentioned later on.

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But while these cable-stayed bridges are being looked down upon like the other concrete spans in America, pursued by Donald Trump and Elaine Chao with some statues of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell and a new quasi-national flag of the US (sorry, I have to be sarcastic with this analogy), cable-stayed bridges in Europe, from an outsider’s point of view, can be viewed as a treat, especially for pedestrians and cyclists using them while on the bike trail. One in three cities in Germany has at least one of this type. And while there are some standard examples that exist, most of the cable-stayed bridges we find here are designed in such an unusual way, that they are screaming for people to stop by to pay homage; whether it is because of tilted towers, curved or even rounded roadways, ….

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or in the case of this bridge, a single tower that is leaning outwards towards the river bank, whose primary cables- all draped over a pointed tower- are supporting the deck. The deck itself has a pony girder approach span with a Warren pony truss main span that crosses the Zwickauer Mulde.

 

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The bridge replaced a century-old structure that consisted of a wire suspension bridge, going by the textbook guidelines that were created by another German engineer, John Roebling. Roebling’s concept was strands of thick wire that were spun together to create the main cables that were anchored between the towers and the ground anchors on shore. The best examples of his design were the Cincinnati-Covington Bridge (1869) and the Brooklyn Bridge (1883, though he died during its construction). The original Wolkenburg Bridge featured heavy cables  combined with vertical suspenders that supported the narrow walkway. The walkway itself was fenced with heavy wire but not trussed like one will see in many suspension bridges today, such as the Golden Gate Bridge or the suspension bridges in New York designed by Othmar H. Ammann.

 

Flooding in 2013 caused extensive damage to the bridge’s roadway and cables to a point where officials in Limbach-Oberfrohna, where Wolkenburg is part of the conglomerate, as well as local officials decided to demolish the bridge, including the tower, which was arched and made of concrete. It took more than three years, combined with lots of money and politicking before the conglomerate let the contract to the firm of Iroplan, based in Chemnitz, and its architect, Klaus Lenz, to build a new bridge at the site of the old one.

 

Construction started in 2016 with the leaning tower and foundations. The roadway was assembled offsite, featuring sliding and welding connections, judging by the author’s observations during his visit. The roadway was lifted into place by crane in November that year, and after attaching the cables between the tower and the roadway, the bridge was completed. What was not completed at the time of the visit in March were the roadway leading to the bridge, the dike to keep the water in the river, and painting the bridge. The bridge was still grey and silver.  The cost for constructing the 80 meter long and two meter wide cable-stayed bridge was 1.2 million Euros.

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After many delays and headaches, people have their bridge back. At the May Day opening, where many people participated, mayor Jesko Vogel led the opening with a bang, as cannons were fired and a historic theater group from Glauchau were on hand for some entertainment. Refreshments were provided by the fire department. While the suspension bridge will forever be in the memories of many who live in Wolkenburg, this bridge reopens a connection between Eichenwald Forest and the mill area, both are northeast of the historic city center. The bridge will be a new icon  for Wolkenburg, providing a picturesque view from the historic city center and its churches and castle on the hill. And contrary to common belief regarding cable-stayed bridges, the Wolkenburg Suspension Bridge serves as an example of a bridge of this kind that, if designed with a good aesthetic taste, can be used for any form of traffic,

 

even if this bridge is open for pedestrians and fishermen only.  😉

 

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The Wrong Picture

Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Photo taken by Nathan Holth

Over the holiday season, as I was celebrating with family and getting some photo opportunities of some bridges in Iowa and Minnesota, one of my fellow pontists brought this painting up to the attention of the historic bridge community. It was a sketch of low quality showing a tall suspension bridge, trying to go along the lines of the Golden Gate Bridge but it is unknown whether it is the Golden Girl or the Big Mac Bridge (aka Mackinac Bridge) in Michigan because it was too blurry to tell. To an art teacher, the “artist” portraying this bridge would have received a failing grade for its lack of quality. However, both the teacher as well as a historian would have gotten grey hair and wrinkly had they seen that the title of this “pseudo-drawing” been touted as The Brooklyn Bridge!

I think I feel the tremble of the ground as a result of the Roebling family coming out of their graves for that!

While this person had good intentions of making money, and Wal-mart (where the drawing was spotted) was the place to sell the artwork, little did he realize that with the help of the internet and some photos from books and other sources, he would have found out that there is a stark contrast between the Brooklyn, Mackinac and the Golden Gate Bridges. How stark? The photos below speak for themselves…..

Golden Gate Brifdge. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Golden Gate Brifdge. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Mackinac Bridge in Michigan. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Mackinac Bridge in Michigan. Photo taken by Nathan Holth
Transversal view of the Brooklyn Bridge. Photo by Nathan Holth

The problem with this misperception of this drawing is that many people do not know what the bridges look like and will take drawings like this one to mislead them into knowing that it is this bridge, when in all reality the actual appearance is anything but that. Furthermore, both the aforementioned bridges have been seen in books and movies, so the differences between them should be obvious. Yet with our total embrace with electronic games and technology as if we are swimming in a pool of water is causing us to lose sight on our surroundings, let along our basic knowledge of history and other core subjects that they all seem to be placed in the backburner. We become disillusioned to what we see, and the younger the generation, the more likely they will identify with the wrong items and have them stick to a point where it becomes more difficult to unglue.

So in order to avoid this type of misunderstanding and misleading identification, here is a word of advice to give to the next person who attempts to draw or paint a picture of something as iconic as a historic bridge: Get it right the first time!

Look at the photos and films, visualize in your head what it looks like and how it should look on paper, and allow yourself an ample amount of time to do the artwork correctly. And don’t worry about the issues of copyright laws. If you do the artwork differently than the one before that, yours will turn out just as well, if not better.

As Gaudenz Assenza, former professor of political science at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, Germany and now professor at the Catholic University of Rozemborok in Slovakia once quoted: Quality trumps quantity in all aspects of life.  While this may refer to aspects on the level of academia, it also applies to all aspects in life, especially when it comes to something like artwork. Think about this before putting the lead to the leaf, no matter how you do it.

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